Have you ever been in a situation where your back is against the wall?
If so, you’ve probably experienced the power of being on death ground. What is the death-ground strategy?
It’s a strategy used to create a sense of urgency and desperation. Why would you want to have a sense of urgency and desperation?
Continue reading and you’ll find out!
Origins of the Death-Ground Strategy
The idea of the death-ground strategy comes from Sun Tzu. He was a Chinese general that lived around 500 BC.
The death-ground strategy has been used by great generals ever since the book The Art of War came out.
Now the book is being read by business leaders, sports coaches—you name it!
Robert Greene brings up the death-ground strategy in his book The 33 Strategies of War.
There, you can read how Hernando Cortés conquered the Aztec Empire by putting his army on death ground.
He burned the boats, which meant that the army couldn’t retreat. Bold move, since they were vastly outnumbered.
Can Be Used in Everyday Life
But the death-ground strategy is not just for generals and CEOs. It can also be used by regular folks who want to accomplish more.
A lot of people have experienced the benefit of death-ground when studying for an exam.
Students procrastinate until the last day or week which creates a sense of urgency. The result is often a better exam than usual.
This phenomenon is covered in the Parkinson law which states that “If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do.”
I use this law while writing by having a timer set for 60 minutes.
No Plan B
The attitude of the death-ground strategy is to have no plan B.
That sounds irresponsible…
Yes, it does, but that’s one of the premises of the strategy.
Imagine if Cortés did not burn the boats. Some of his men might have left the other soldiers.
Or if they wouldn’t leave them physically—their mind would be fantasizing about home instead of being focused on winning.
An Example of How We Used the Death-Ground Strategy
I’ve known about the death-ground strategy for a couple of years now. In late 2014, we decided that it was time to put it into use.
We were working in factories in Norway, and we were getting paid a good salary for doing so. But, we wanted something else.
Our objective was to be self-reliant, and our way of accomplishing this would be to start a business.
We quit our jobs and bought a house in Sweden. We had no jobs, however, we had started a company.
But we quickly realized that we didn’t profit. We began to feel a sense of urgency and desperation.
Did we look for a job? No, we didn’t want a plan B. Long story short; we got creative and found a way by starting a second company that succeeded.
Thinking For Yourself
As adults, we become less creative. Instead of using our creative muscle—we follow rules and guidelines.
In our jobs, someone else tells us what to do. We listen to Politicians, experts, and mainstream media for answers on how to live:
Don’t do this, avoid the dangers of this, this is acceptable, etc.
“They know best” is what we tell ourselves.
Don’t get me wrong. I find it incredibly valuable to go through an apprenticeship phase in our lives.
Furthermore, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with reading books and following the law.
But, the problem comes when we become so dependent on other people’s opinions that we lose ourselves.
As an avid reader of business books, I find numerous contradictions. The biggest one must have been a school book that I read when I studied organization in university.
The book said something like this “we don’t know if strategies work.” Is this a course that is supposed to create vigorous and decisive executives?
The book was written by professors that hadn’t been in business. But, do you require the doctor to have gone through cancer if you [god forbid] had it?
No, so there are contradictions everywhere. The solution? Listen to everyone but think for yourself.
So, what does this have to do with the death-ground strategy?
Well, when we were in a situation of desperation—we didn’t care about other people’s advice or opinions.
Unless [and this is important] it would move us closer to our target. Don’t be a rebel for the sake of being a rebel.
When being in a situation where your back is against the wall, you’ll find answers that you didn’t know existed.
Have you ever heard the phrase “If I can’t find the way, I’ll make the way.” That’s the attitude of someone who is operating on death ground.
Put Yourself On Death-Ground on Purpose
Probably the most irresponsible advice you can ever give to someone. But hey, it works [if you do].
Now, there’s a difference between being stupid and taking calculated risks. For example, when we bought a house without a job, we had money to live for six months.
We believed six months to be enough for us to figure out a way—while still giving us the urgency.
Most people have to wait until something chaotic happens before they get to experience the power of the death-ground strategy.
But isn’t it better to manufacture it—at least in small doses? Having a deadline, for example, is a small shift that can yield big results.
Some Final Words
Okay, so let’s say you’ve placed yourself on death-ground now. But you don’t feel the power or creativity. If so, be honest with yourself.
Do you have a plan B, somewhere in the back of your mind? Perhaps it’s a relative that you can loan money from if things were to go south.
Whatever it is, find it and remove it.
Now, putting yourself on death-ground doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll win. You have to work and constantly readjust your plan.
But I’m confident that you’ll eventually be further ahead if you put this strategy into use. Be more afraid of regret than of failure and we hope to see your successes one day!